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Check to see if your phone is unlocked: buy a prepaid SIM for one penny

I was browsing Amazon the other day and saw a Lycamobile SIM card from several vendors...for 1 cent! Free shipping. I have no real need for one at the moment and will probably never use Lycamobile (a MVNO - Mobile Virtual Network Operator phone company that uses T-Mobile's network), but for a penny, why not snag one? There were a couple of cases in the last year where I wanted to test phones to see if the are unlocked.

That's where one of these cheap SIM cards could help you: if you are planning to go overseas and buy a SIM card. But is your phone unlocked? Buy one of these penny SIM cards and you can easily find out. Just pop it in. You won't get actual phone service (unless you pay for a Lycamobile plan), but you'll quickly find out if your phone is locked or not: turn off the phone, swap in the Lycamobile SIM for your old one, turn on the phone...and see what happens. If you are promoted for a code to unlock your phone, you know it is locked.

And if you have an unlock code (from your phone provider) you were going to try when you bought a SIM overseas? You can type it now! You need to type in this unlock code only once to unlock the phone forever. But why not do it ahead of time to make sure the code actually works, before you leave home? You can throw the SIM away after you've used it for the test.

To buy a Lycamobile SIM, search Amazon for "lycamobile sim card." You'll get a bunch of results. A few of them will be for one cent with free shipping (Prime not needed - I don't have it). There's no catch - you'll be charged only a penny. The SIM I got is a 3-in-1 SIM that will work as either a standard SIM, a micro SIM or nano SIM - should fit any phone.

Disclaimer: this test probably won't work if your phone is locked to the T-Mobile network, because Lycamobile uses T-Mobile. If you have say a MetroPCS phone (uses T-Mobile), Lycamobile's SIM would work in the phone without unlocking it - so this Lycamobile SIM won't help you. In that case, look for an AT&T SIM (Cricket, FreedomPop, or any AT&T MNVO), just not another T-Mobile operator.

Posted by
770 posts

This is a great idea. My phone is unlocked, and I’m happily using a UK SIM at the moment, but a woman I was traveling with recently had gone to the trouble of calling her phone company to get her phone unlocked, only to discover once overseas that they had not followed through and her phone was still locked. Rather than call them from England, she just took the $12/day roaming charge from her home phone company. Get a free or one penny SIM, try it in advance and know for sure you’re good to go. And save a heap of money. Good advice as usual, Andrew

Posted by
4686 posts

Thanks, Nelly. Interesting anecdote about your traveling companion. The only "action" the phone company would take to unlock her phone would be to provide her with the unlock code for her specific phone. So she should have had a code in hand ready to type in when inserting the new SIM. If she didn't have that unlock code in the first place, that was her mistake or misunderstanding. Perhaps she thought unlocking was something the phone company does in the background - but all they do is give you code, then YOU type it in when required.

Sometimes you can buy the unlock code for your specific phone on eBay. (It's the same code your mobile provider would give you - just one code for each individual phone, a number that can be figured out, if you know how - and other people who "know how" can sell you the code.) I have done that a few times - the cost depends on make/model of phone.

Posted by
607 posts

I always test to see if a phone is unlocked by borrowing a SIM from friend or family who is using a different provider. Once i put in the different sim, i make a test call to make sure it actually works. You can't do that with an unactivated sim card without a service plan.

I have used eBay for obtaining unlock codes. The price is usually the cheapest and they email the unlock code to you within a few hours of payment.

Posted by
4686 posts

I always test to see if a phone is unlocked by borrowing a SIM from friend or family who is using a different provider. Once i put in the different sim, i make a test call to make sure it actually works. You can't do that with an unactivated sim card without a service plan.

You don't need to make a test call to see if your phone is unlocked. If you can power up the phone with a SIM from another network without entering a code, it is unlocked. No service is required.